FTA – uncertainty over post-Brexit EU migrants a problem

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has urged the government to take steps to “ensure that UK business can continue to operate at full staffing levels after the UK leaves the EU”. This follows the publication of the Commons Home Affair Committee’s report on post-Brexit migration.

According to the Home Affairs Committee, there is significant uncertainty as to how Brexit will affect the labour market. It argued that, “An opportunity to help business and employers plan, and a crucial moment to rebuild confidence in the migration system, has so far been missed.”

Deputy CEO of the FTA John Hookham said that the committee was right to raise those concerns regarding the lack of guidance offered to businesses over the future rights of their EU migrant workers. This is particularly important in the case of logistics – 14% of HGV drivers and 25% of warehouse staff come from EU countries.

“Up to now, the political emphasis on Brexit has focused on trade and borders, while sidelining future immigration policy for a later date,” said Hookham. “EU workers represent more than 12% of the UK’s logistics workforce, yet this lack of clarity on their future status has left their employers in limbo, not knowing whether they will be able to continue employing them under their current contracts after Brexit. An employee’s right to work in the UK is a pre-condition of most employment contracts.

“The Migration Advisory Committee is due to publish its findings over the future of EU workers currently in the UK in the autumn, but this is too late for businesses which are already planning for 2019 and beyond. A clear and informed debate about the various policy options available needs to start now about future access to non-UK workers, so that employers can have clarity on the scale of their recruitment needs.”

Hookham said there was a “particular need for the continued availability of seasonal workers to support fluctuations in trading requirements” – and the delivery industry’s peak season would be a good example of this.

“Around a quarter of warehouse operators tell us that EU workers make up 75% or more of their agency staff, so if these people cannot be employed in the UK after Brexit, their absence would pose a real threat to the supply chain, particularly for the e-commerce sector and other businesses relying on daily deliveries,” said Hookham. “These businesses are currently living on a knife-edge of uncertainty about the future: when will employers be able to write to their employees who hold non-UK EU citizenship and confirm their employment status after Brexit?”

Hookham warned that the clock is ticking: “The decision to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to look into the role of EU workers in the UK took over a year to make, which means the whole process of confirming the options for business has already been delayed. Now is the time for swift action from government, to provide clarity for the workforce and their employers, and ensure that Britain can keep trading efficiently in a post-Brexit world.”